The world’s five largest publicly traded oil companies are increasing their investments in oil and gas, putting a combined $110 billion in new fossil-fuel production.
Meanwhile, those firms are projected to spend just $3.6 billion on low-carbon investments, such as biofuels and renewables, according to a new analysis that Influence Map, a British nonprofit that analyzes corporate influence on climate policy, derived from industry data and numbers buried in company disclosures.
The reckless disparity comes just months after the United Nations warned that the world must rapidly phase out fossil fuel use over the next decade or face catastrophic global warming of at least 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Exxon Mobil Corp., Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total together have spent more than $1 billion on public relations promoting green energy projects and lobbying on behalf of climate policy in the past three years, after virtually every nation on Earth agreed to cut emissions under the Paris Agreement.
The totals represent “significant efforts to maintain public support on climate while holding back binding policy,” the nonprofit group said in its report, published Thursday evening.
“As the pressure of climate change and the actual physical manifestations of it become accelerated, this account of what oil majors consider to be ‘on board with climate change’ becomes disconnected from reality,” Dylan Tanner, executive director of Influence Map, said by phone. “You have an extreme lobbying disconnect, and then you have a disconnect on their branding and their role in the solutions.”
The companies’ new tune on climate change rings loud on many of the most influential English-language news outlets. The New York Times regularly runs branded content from Exxon Mobil and Shell touting the firms’ investments in algae-based fuels and other low-carbon alternatives. The Washington Post this month published an advertisement from the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top U.S. lobbying arm, pitching natural gas as where “the low- and no-carbon future starts.” The banners on energy and environmental policy newsletters sent by such outlets as Politico and Axios routinely feature the logos of Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, the privately held fossil-fuel conglomerate controlled by billionaire Republican mega-donors.
The report found that the companies spent $195 million annually over the past three years promoting their role in helping to address the climate crisis. The firms doled out $965 million a year marketing other corporate sustainability initiatives. Exxon Mobil spent the most, at $56 million. Shell was a close second at $55 million. Total came in third at $52 million, followed by BP with $30 million and Chevron with $4 million.
The companies spent a combined $200 million a year lobbying on activities to influence climate change policy both directly and by funding trade associations, the report found. BP spent the most at $53 million, followed by Shell at $49 million, Exxon Mobil at $41 million, and Chevron and Total each at $29 million.
The two top American trade associations, API and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, took the firmest stances against the goals of the Paris Agreement and had the biggest lobbying budgets from the oil majors. Canadian and Australian trade groups came out somewhere in the middle. The top European trade groups took slightly friendlier stances on climate policy, in part because of stronger political pressure on the continent.
“As the pressure of climate change and the actual physical manifestations of it become accelerated, this account of what oil majors consider to be ‘on board with climate change’ becomes disconnected from reality.”
The Influence Map research is the second report to come out this month detailing the fossil fuel industry’s effort to influence the American public.
New data compiled by the nonprofit Climate Investigations Center showed energy and other corporate trade groups doled out at least $1.4 billion on these services from 2008 to 2017, as HuffPost reported this month. API accounted for nearly half that total, spending $663 million over the 10-year period.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ― the corporate lobby that has aggressively fought regulations to address climate change ― spent $244 million, the second most. The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity came in at No. 3, spending $121.7 million.
The figures likely only scratch the surface, since trade associations are only required to report their top five contractors to the Internal Revenue Service and individual companies often pay for their own in-house advertising.